In 'Life and Times,' a good storyteller tells good stories

April 24, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"My Life and Times" is a gentle and charming new show that might help television break a couple of bad prime-time habits.

There are a bunch of reasons to recommend the ABC series, which premieres at 9:30 tonight on WJZ-TV (Channel 13).

There's the talent behind the camera, for one. "My Life and

Times" is created by Ron Koslow, the brains behind "Beauty and the Beast." It's directed by Michael Apted, who did such a lyrical job with the feature film, "Coal Miner's Daughter."

Then there's the story itself. The series centers on an 85-year-old writer named Ben Miller, played by Tom Irwin. It is set in the year 2035, with Ben living in a retirement home of sorts.

If your eyes glaze over at the thought of 2035 and futuristic depictions, hold on. Each episode opens with Ben telling someone a story from his life, and the bulk of the half-hour is set in the past, from the 1960s onward. So it's really about contemporary life -- but filtered through the wisdom of age and some sense of the future.

In tonight's episode, Ben explains to his grandson, who is depressed about not getting into Princeton, how life sometimes has a plan for us which is at odds with ours. He recalls the day in October 1989 when he was caught in the San Francisco earthquake. . .

Ben is a good storyteller with good stories to tell.

Ask yourself as you watch this program, when was the last time that a prime-time show celebrated someone 85 years old? Heck, when was the last time a prime-time show didn't either make fun of or ask us to feel sorry for someone because they were 85?

That's one great thing about this show: It celebrates the marriage of old age and wisdom is a way that is more Eastern or American Indian than mainstream American. It celebrates the past, the old and storytelling in a medium that usually enshrines the future, youth and only what's new, new, new -- because that's where the advertising action is.

In that way, "My Life and Times" is very radical. Next week's episode and the one airing the week after are better than tonight's. But check them all out. Enjoy this gentle blessing from Koslow, Apted and ABC while it lasts.

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